Time management is having its moment in the sun. Get online or talk to your team, and you’re sure to hear all sorts of tips for managing your time.
There’s just one problem with that: According to Rory Vaden, co-founder of Brand Builders Group, there’s no such thing as time management.
Unlike many leadership speakers, Vaden’s take is that time management is really a euphemism for self-management. “We all have 24 hours in a day,” Vaden explains. “What really matters is what we do with it — in other words, how we manage ourselves.”
How You Manage Yourself Matters
Vaden’s New York Times best-selling book, “Take the Stairs,” argues that how most people achieve success isn’t through get-rich-quick schemes, but through perseverance.
“Discipline is everything,” Vaden argues. “Setting goals doesn’t work unless you have the gusto to follow through with them.”
What does Vaden mean by discipline? In a word, self-control. Self-control means choosing fruits and vegetables over French fries, but it’s not just a matter of health. To Vaden, self-control in professional life means:
How you manage yourself begins with the goals you set for yourself. Vaden is a big proponent of “eating the frog,” a concept popularized by self-help author Brian Tracy.
“You have to make yourself do the things you don’t want to do,” Vaden says. “Put those things first. Make yourself get through them before you let yourself do the fun stuff.”
Everywhere in life, shortcuts exist. You could spend weeks reviewing resumes and choosing the right applicant, or you could hire the person right in front of you. You could write a killer blog post, or you could plagiarize that piece on a competitor’s site.
Yes, it’s tempting to do it the quick-and-dirty way. But Vaden warns that shortcuts rarely make sense for the long term. In his speeches, he encourages people to invest the time upfront for a better result down the road.
Going the extra mile
Everywhere in life, there are ways to go above and beyond. You could help your friend who’s moving get his furniture in the door and call it quits — but you could be a better friend by moving it to the right spot in his or her home.
This is even more important in the workplace, Vaden points out: “Your team is counting on you. Why do the minimum when you could make a big difference by doing a little more?” Whether it’s an email campaign, a sales proposal, or simply an office clean-up, going the extra mile is worth it.
Making time for self-development
One of the toughest balances of adult life is between getting today’s tasks done and planning for tomorrow’s. Vaden suggests a 50/50 approach: Try to spend half your time attending to here-and-now needs, and spend the other half bettering yourself in some way.
Vaden thinks broadly about this: “If anxiety is an issue for you, learning to relax might be important to your self-development. Your professional development might be learning how to contribute to office culture.”
Procrastination isn’t Vaden’s solution to everything. But a previous book of his, “Procrastinate on Purpose,” contains some important ideas on how to multiply your time.
5 Steps to Self-Management
Managing yourself more effectively doesn’t necessarily mean doing more. To Vaden, just as important is doing less:
The first of Vaden’s permissions involves cutting out things that aren’t serving you. “Most people never bother to ask themselves: ‘What’s wasting my time?’” he observes.
Start with your values: What really matters to you, and how do you live out those values? If being a good dad is critical to you, for instance, then bonding time with your son really might be the most important part of your schedule.
“Learn to say ‘no,’” Vaden recommends. “It’s an important word in your vocabulary.”
Change is scary, Vaden acknowledges. But so is the idea of wasting your life on tasks that you could have accomplished faster or easier using technology.
If something is wasting your time and you can’t eliminate it altogether, ask whether there’s a tool that can help. Workflow automation tools like cold email templates, for example, can help you spend less time sending pitches out to people who may or may not even read them.
To Vaden, one of the hard truths of life is that you aren’t good at everything. If a task on your plate could be done better by someone else, ask for that person’s help.
“Let go of control,” Vaden counsels. “There’s very little in life that you can accomplish without help.” It’s important to worry less about a deadline being missed and more about the strength of your team.
Just remember the reciprocity principle: Expect to pay back what you receive from others by offering to help them with projects of their own.
There’s a big difference between procrastination and patience, Vaden notes. “It’s important to give yourself the mental space to make good decisions.”
Recognize when you’re rushing into something. If you feel pressured to do something simply to do it, you probably aren’t taking action for a strategic reason. And according to Vaden, rudderless actions are the biggest waste of time of all.
Other people have value, Vaden makes clear, but it’s important to focus on your own priorities. The good news is that it’s possible to help others by helping yourself.
When making a task list, Vaden suggests labeling work to be done not by deadline or difficulty, but by its relevance to your goals. The more it pushes your priorities forward, the more important it is to do.
“It’s up to you to lead your own life,” Vaden says. “And the best way to do that is by managing yourself well.”